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New lungs inspiring new hope

Former Clearwater High School teacher Bob Furney is back home after what he calls "a summer of miracles."

Bob, his wife, Suzann, and their 13-year-old son, Rob, left their Clearwater home May 31 for Barnes Hospital in St. Louis where, a month and a day later, he underwent a double lung transplant operation.

They returned home two weeks ago, with Bob looking and feeling better than he has in more than a dozen years and exclaiming, "I never knew how good normal felt!"

Bob first underwent surgery on both of his diseased lungs in 1969 but was able to continue working for another 10 years. However, he had to go on medical leave then and his condition continued to deteriorate.

"I went downhill real fast" after arriving in St. Louis, he said, becoming very sluggish and hardly able to move from one chair to another. Bob's surgeon told him after the successful transplant that he would have had only a few more days to live. "I kind of knew that in the back of my mind," Bob said.

He considers among the "miracles" the fact that he had to wait only one month in St. Louis for a transplant while others have to wait much longer and that he has had no major complications.

The two healthy lungs from a donor in Atlanta transformed Bob's life almost immediately. His brother, Les, who had flown out for the operation from his Safety Harbor home, saw the still unconscious Bob as he was wheeled from the recovery room to intensive care and said it was like a light had been turned on. He said Bob's color was better than he had seen it in years and there was no more of that labored breathing. "It was like he was taking a nap."

Bob began hiking up and down hospital corridors within days. His new lungs did beautifully but his legs, not used to so much activity, gave out. He encountered his surgeon on the elevator and said, "Now I need a leg transplant." His doctor replied, "That's the kind of complaint we like to hear because we know the lungs are working and you're exercising."

That's Bob's "job" for the next year, to get his body back in shape. He will work out at home on a stationary bicycle and a treadmill machine. He also plans to walk and bicycle outside as far as his legs will take him.

Bob celebrated his 44th birthday in St. Louis on Aug. 7 and for the first time in years blew out the candles on his cake. Forty-four of them? "No," Suzann said. "Six or seven. We didn't want to press our luck. But he had to do it twice so we could get it on videotape."

Bob went out last Saturday and bought himself a belated birthday or early Christmas present: a new 10-speed mountain bike. "It's the first brand-new bicycle in my life," he said. "I always had hand-me-downs." He plans to ride and ride and ride.

Although Bob still has to wear a mask when going into public buildings to guard against infection, he did something Wednesday he had not been able to do for years. He went to Countryside Mall and walked from one end to the other. He can't wait to go back at Christmastime.

"I'll never take it for granted," he said of his new-found health. "I'll never get used to it. I hope I won't."